I had a lovely conversation yesterday with my 86 year-old grandmother. She called to thank me for the little care package I sent her. I sent her a Willow Tree 'Tree Angel' that says, "May you find strength, beauty and peace in each day", a coaster that said something to the effect of "Ever have a thought and then forget where you put it?" and an insulated plastic tumbler with a straw that said 'Nana' all over it in varying sizes and colors. I also included a silly card and a drawing from my youngest son. He drew a nice picture of birds on a sunny day.
Now those things may seem rather ordinary to you. However, Gram lives in Florida and I in Massachusetts. I last saw her at my wedding in September, it was on her birthday. She was just admitted to hospice after the discovery of a large tumor in her lung. She did not want it worked up or treated. I don't blame her one bit. She is intermittently confused, often short of breath and of course, sleepy more often than not. The diagnosis was an incidental one and a surprise only a few weeks ago. She is doing fairly well all things considered.
Our family has a long history with humor. The package was meant to be a nice surprise. It was a combination of the serious acknowledgment of her situation and a shout out to her fear and religious beliefs in the form of the angel. It was poking fun at her memory loss with the coaster and with the card. It was a gift from her great-grandchildren in the cup, with the hope and wish that each time she uses it, she will remember all of them and know she is loved and will be missed when it's her time to transition to the next place.
We had a nice chat. She was a bit short of breath but she sounded chipper. She told me about the priest that came to see her and it made her feel better. She gave her confessions. "Good grief! How long did THAT take?!", I asked. She mentioned she asked if her name was on 'the list' to get in to Heaven. She said he looked and said not yet. She asked him to look under her maiden name. Nope, not there. I cracked up. She said she was looking forward to seeing Meghan. I cautioned her, "You know, you'll have your hearing back in Heaven. You DO remember how loud she was, right?" I reminded her she'd have to wade through all the kitties she's collected over her past 8 years flying with the angels. I told her she'd better rest up, Meghan would keep her very, very busy. She laughed.
She told me about her experience with hospice so far. She is singing their praises. She is loving it and grappling with the fact they are there because she is dying, yet gosh, it's so nice to have them. They are, of course, amazing and do the most amazing of work. She feels so loved, supported and taken care of. Of course they care for her medically. It's the social and emotional care that always makes the hospice difference. They help her address her fears and wade through the difficult conversations and decisions. They are on call 24/7/365. They keep her comfortable. They provide everything she could possibly need from medications and equipment to audio books and even someone to help her write her memories and life story down for her! She loves the attention and TLC. Her children welcome and receive much needed support as well. Given I'm so far away, it gives me peace of mind, too.
She tires quickly. She said goodbye. I told her I'd call again, perhaps today. This time, my questions will be more serious. Will she bring Meggie some messages from us? What does she want her death day to be like? What is she looking forward to? What is she afraid of? What does she want now? Does she want me to visit? Does she want to Skype with the kids? Does she want a party? What color socks does she want to be wearing? Polka dots perhaps? :-) After she's cremated, would she object to her ashes being in maracas so we can 'play' her? What will her sign to us be that she is near when she is in the next place? I bet it will be in the form of people saying "What?" all the time since she doesn't hear most of what you say!! Or maybe, cats constantly coughing up fur balls...
For my next care package: cat food! Why, you ask? She has always had a funny cough thing that she does. It's worse now because of the tumor and her breathing is getting harder. She is coughing more. I've always teased her about her 'fur ball'. I decided I am going to send her a little bag of hairball control cat food. I'll tell her she can crush it up in applesauce. It might just do the trick! :-)
If there is one thing my family does well, it's humor. It's such a gift to have been raised in a family that values humor and isn't afraid to use it. There is of course a time and place and tasteful humor can make everything 'better' and more fun. It helps one through the difficult moments. It makes you laugh.
It's true you know. Laughter really is the best medicine. It may not cure you, but it can certainly make your burden a wee bit lighter, even if only for a little while.
Maybe I should send her a pair of angel wings so she can practice. Maybe that will help her get on the list...